Osteoarthritis of the spine occurs when the spinal joints (also referred to as “facets”) degenerate and become inflamed, causing pain and stiffness. Severe cases may also produce numbness or weakness in the arms and legs. If you’re suffering from this condition, you may notice that you tend to feel best when you’re moving around during the day, and that your symptoms are worst in the morning and at night. Pain may also increase due to excessive movement, exertion of pressure on the affected joints or changes in temperature or barometric pressure.
As of this time, there is still no cure for arthritis of the spine. Fortunately, however, there are a number of steps you can take to alleviate your symptoms and get back to a more active life, including the three tips listed below. Just be sure to check with your physician before making any changes to your diet or exercise program:
- Eat a healthy diet. Be sure to eat foods containing vitamin C (peppers, citrus fruits, berries), omega-3 fatty acids (soy, fish, chia seeds), oleocanthal (extra-virgin olive oil) and polyphenols (coffee, tea) to reduce inflammation. Additionally, foods rich in calcium and vitamin D (low-fat dairy products, leafy greens) may increase bone strength. Some researchers have suggested that regularly consuming foods in the allium family (onions, shallots, leeks, garlic) could potentially decrease your chances of developing early osteoarthritis, while others have found that sulforaphane (found in broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and brussels sprouts) could help to prevent or slow down osteoarthritis advancement. In addition to eating a healthy diet, some arthritis sufferers have found that taking glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate supplements (both naturally found in cartilage) helped to relieve their pain and stiffness.
- Exercise. Getting 30 minutes of exercise three times per week can help to alleviate the symptoms associated with arthritis of the spine. An added benefit is that exercising may help you to lose weight, which can in turn aid in reducing pressure on the affected spinal joints. But make sure you’re doing the right types of exercise — aim for low-impact aerobic exercises (walking, swimming, water aerobics, stationary bicycling), exercises that strengthen the neck and back muscles and exercises that focus on stretching and improving range of motion (yoga, Pilates, tai chi). Spinal osteoarthritis sufferers may find that taking an anti-inflammatory medication and applying heat prior to exercising, and then applying cold after exercising, may help to minimize any resulting pain.
- Get some rest. People suffering from arthritis of the spine will know that the associated pain and stiffness often make it hard to sleep. But too little sleep can actually make symptoms worse — getting less than the recommended amount may increase inflammation and intensify your sensitivity to pain. Spinal osteoarthritis sufferers may find relief by sleeping on their sides, in the fetal position, as this can help to widen the spaces between the vertebrae and decrease pressure on the affected joints. Make sure to take regular rest breaks throughout the day too, especially if your job requires you to remain in one position for an extended period of time (such as sitting at a desk).
By following these tips and making other small changes to your daily routine (like being sure to lift with your legs instead of your back, or carrying a backpack instead of a purse), you may be able to reduce the pain and stiffness associated with spinal osteoarthritis. If you continue to struggle living with this condition, however, we encourage you to contact USA Spine Care to determine whether you may be a candidate for surgery. Our surgeons are highly skilled at performing minimally invasive outpatient procedures that provide many advantages over traditional open spine surgery.